AAC preview, Part 1: Burning questions and players to watch

Frank Harris has thrown for 9,356 yards, rushed for 1,822 and contributed to a 99 total touchdowns over parts of four seasons. John Rivera/Icon Sportswire

Editor's note: This story was updated in late July to reflect the latest projections and changes to teams and rosters.

The American Athletic Conference replaced quality with quantity. It will take a while to figure out if that was the right move.

Easily the most consistently strong of the conferences known (to AAC commissioner Mike Aresco's annoyance) as college football's mid-major Group of 5, the AAC lost Cincinnati, Houston and UCF -- winners of the 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2020 and 2021 conference titles, not to mention the 2014 Fiesta Bowl (UCF), 2015 Peach Bowl (Houston) and 2018 Peach Bowl (UCF) and participants in the 2021 College Football Playoff (Cincy) -- to the Big 12 in the latest round of the Realignment Wars. Other AAC programs have thrived at times during the CFP era, but that's a lot of program power to lose.

As tends to be the case with conference realignment, when members are plucked away by someone higher up on the totem pole, the same is then done to someone lower. The AAC took a whopping six schools from Conference USA, including the winners of the past six C-USA crowns: UTSA (2021 and 2022), UAB (2018 and 2020) and Florida Atlantic (2017 and 2019). They tossed in the 2013 champ (Rice), a team that has played in two C-USA Championships six years (North Texas) and a major-market Charlotte team as well.

Only one of these teams (UTSA) is projected to compete for a conference title immediately. Four of the other five are breaking in new head coaches, and Rice remains interred in a long-term rebuild. But when you can't have a better AAC, you might as well have a bigger one.

Let's preview the AAC! We'll look at the six newcomers this week and the eight holdovers next week.

Every week through the offseason, Bill Connelly will preview another division from the Group of 5 and Power 5 exclusively for ESPN+, ultimately including all 133 FBS teams. The previews will include 2022 breakdowns, 2023 previews and burning questions for each team.